I have a cough that simply will not be suppressed. Help!
December 26, 2012 10:57 AM   Subscribe

I have a cough that simply will not be suppressed. Help!

About a month ago, I got a cold which went to my chest and has been troubling me ever since (I have asthma so this has happened before). It has been dormant for the most part for about two weeks, but resurfaced two days as an annoying hacking cough. I have tried the following over the counter medications to no avail:

Tylenol Cough
Tylenol Cough + Mucous Control
Benylin DM Cough Syrup
Tylenol Cold & Flu (Night)

Nothing is working. I am coughing every two minutes except when I am actively drinking something (tea helps). I don't feel sick and have no other symptoms other than the cough. It is loud and disruptive to others in my house. You are not my doctor, but is there anything else I can take to lick this thing, or at least quiet it enough that I don't get worried noises from my boyfriend every two minutes?

p.s. I am in Canada if you are going to suggest any brand names...
posted by JoannaC to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My daughter had that and the only thing that helped was albuterol breathing treatments and prednisone. I would go see a doctor sooner rather than later.
posted by dawkins_7 at 11:03 AM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tessalon Perles are tiny little miracles, but they are prescription-only (in the US at least.) It's probably doctor time.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:05 AM on December 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think the key for me when I've had lingering coughs is the guaifenesin. I think the Mucus Control one you have only has 100mg in it, but something like Mucinex has something like 6-800mg+ of guaifenesin in it it. And you need to drink a lot of water for it to work, but it does work for me.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 11:07 AM on December 26, 2012

Vic's vapor rub on feet with socks, at bedtime
posted by maloon at 11:08 AM on December 26, 2012

As a fellow asthma sufferer--do you have any albuterol for a nebulizer? Have breathing treatments helped? If not--can you get a course of treatment quickly? That will most likely help. Tessalon Perles are awesome, but if your bronchi are spasaming and causing cough, you probably need albuterol to help.
posted by FergieBelle at 11:12 AM on December 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Codeine is a great cough suppressent and lucky you, AC&C is available over the counter. But, I'd go to the doctor for a GOOD cough medicine, maybe a BIG dose of codeine.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:12 AM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used to have recurring coughing attacks and my doctor ended up prescribing budesonide (Pulmicort Turbuhaler in Canada), which sort of cured me. However, I still have minor coughing attacks and my current method is to lock myself in a room and turn up the heat for a couple of hours. At least, it stops the mucus production for a while (there seems to be a vicious circle of mucus > coughing > more mucus but IANAD).
posted by elgilito at 11:14 AM on December 26, 2012

I have asthma - seasonal, hay fever type - but still if a cold settles into my lungs and turns into a relentless cough, it's always been a mild (walking) pneumonia.

I'd recommend seeing a doctor.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:15 AM on December 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm with the people saying this sounds like something you need to talk to a doctor or nurse about, given your asthma. I also have mild asthma, and the last time I had a lingering cough it took inhaled steroids (not albuterol) to get it to finally go away.
posted by pie ninja at 11:17 AM on December 26, 2012

You can get dextromethorphan OTC. It together with albuterol might do the trick.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 11:19 AM on December 26, 2012

I'm asthmatic and had something like this back in January. The only thing that knocked the coughing out was a cortisone shot and a one week perscription of prednisone.
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 11:23 AM on December 26, 2012

Go see a doctor. I had whooping cough present the same way. Not much you can do after the first stages except ride out all the coughing. I was prescribed codeine to help so I could sleep and it worked very well. If you are prone to asthma I'd be doubly quick to get to a doctors.
posted by wwax at 11:23 AM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sudafed is key for me. Keeping my sinuses clear reduces post nasal drip, which is what causes the annoying dry cough for me as mucous drains down the back of your throat and causes irritation (and also reduces the likeliness that I'll get a sinus infection following a cold). My pattern in the last few years is to get a cold and then a week or so later, I get a sinus infection and the cough gets worse. The last couple times I've had a cold though I've started taking sudafed (the stuff behind the counter at the pharmacy) as soon as I felt any sinus pressure at all and it's helped immeasurably. I currently in that stage and as long as I stay on top of the sudafed, I cough WAY less.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 11:38 AM on December 26, 2012

Does your tea have honey in it? My 2-year-old has had a relentless cough for 2 weeks, and they won't let me give him any drugs. Here are the things they told me to try:

-Warm fluids
-Humidifier OR
-Steam (from hot showers)
-Cold air (this one did not work at all)

The honey really did help. Though it didn't take the cough away completely, he is no longer having the racking cough at night which keeps us both awake.

We don't have a humidier, so I can't speak to how well that works, but it's definitely something else to try!
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:45 AM on December 26, 2012

I find that treating any possible postnasal drip is a key.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:47 AM on December 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

Tessalon (generic name is benzonatate) and codeine cough syrup do the trick for me, combined with lots of "cold care" tea made with honey and lemon, and a vaporizer with eucalyptus oil. I have a "cough box" ready with this stuff at all times.

The Mucinex with Dextromethorphan tablets (over the counter in the US, don't know their status in Canada) also help in the early stages.

Good luck!
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:03 PM on December 26, 2012

Vic's vapor rub on feet with socks, at bedtime

This will only make your feet and socks smelly and slimy.

Unfortunately, most OTC cough medicines don't do very much. Cough drops are useless. Codeine doesn't even seem to do that much. A cough of this duration, and I have had them, requires a trip to the doctor to treat the underlying cause.

I went for years having a cough that would stay for weeks at a time. In the end, it turned out to be acid reflux. I was surprised to learn this because I did not feel the acid burning sensation that I associate with reflux, but that it what it ended up being.

Cough variant asthma is another possibility.
posted by Tanizaki at 12:14 PM on December 26, 2012

OK, I can't speak to the cough suppression, but don't take mucinex. Mucinex has guaifenesin, which is an expectorant. That means it is there to make you cough, to bring up phlegm. If you have a dry cough, you don't want to keep coughing. (if you can feel the stuff in you that you need to bring up, that's another story.)
posted by gaspode at 12:21 PM on December 26, 2012

Seconding acid reflux. Totally changing my diet (eliminating wheat in particular) for unrelated reasons had the side effect of curing what for me had been a 2 decades long chronic cough.
posted by rr at 12:23 PM on December 26, 2012

This is one of those "go to a doctor" things.

The trick for me turned out to be albuterol - codeine was completely ineffective in my case (didn't even make my throat hurt less.) I have what I guess you could call intermittent asthma: I get full-blown, awful, feels-like-I-might-die problems (almost always associated with allergies or severe colds,) but quite infrequently, and very mild breathing issues (almost always associated with allergies or less-severe colds) more often but still nowhere near 2-3 days a week. I also have a lifetime platinum pass to Bronchitis land. Ahem. Anyway, the last time things got really bad, albuterol was a HUGE help in getting things reduced to the point where I could actually heal: coughing begets coughing, as I'm sure you know.

Also, and I have no idea why this might be, almost all of my cold/sinus/coughing/breathing daytime issues have been significantly milder since I got my CPAP machine in February/March. This has been the best allergy-to-cold season for me since... possibly ever, honestly.

I BTW know it's not just that I'm suddenly not reacting to things, because my eczema has been awful. I sort of suspect the humidifier attached to the CPAP, plus the suddenly extremely regular (and presumably less stressful to the lungs, etc.) breathing habits I have overnight, have been the primary benefits in this area.

I've had a very mild cold the last four to five days, and drinking liquids that are, for lack of a better term, thick, has helped a lot when things have been more spasm-y. "Lots of Pulp" orange juice is the first thing that comes to mind, honestly - tea with honey is another thing in this category. Keeping ultra-hydrated is also helpful, but it won't stop the coughing until the coughing is already mostly under control.

(Acid reflux/GERD is also a potential suspect as mentioned above, and GERD is insanely common among asthma sufferers - but the hacking stuff calls for immediate relief, because, well, coughing begets coughing. Hence me typing out the word "albuterol" once more before I hit the "post answer" button.)
posted by SMPA at 1:17 PM on December 26, 2012

This is how I found out I had asthma. I had a persistent dry cough after otherwise recovering from a cold. I saw my doc and he sent me for a methacholine challenge, which I failed spectacularly. I now treat the asthma that I've had all my life and am much happier and more active.

You should see a doctor.
posted by workerant at 1:22 PM on December 26, 2012

I just saw the doctor today for the same symptoms you have -- three weeks of coughing my head off without much else in the way of symptoms. My blood oxygenation was low at the doctor's office, so I had a nebulizer treatment and was told to continue my albuterol inhaler (which I use only when I'm sick), and given a Z-pack of antibiotics. If this doesn't do the trick, my doctor said she would increase prednisone (which I am on chronically anyway for another problem). I also got a cough syrup with codeine to use at night so that I could get some sleep.

I think its time to see a doctor and get some prescription meds to help you deal with this
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 1:36 PM on December 26, 2012

Seconding that it could be pertussis (otherwise known as whooping cough) and that you should see a doctor. Mrs. Procrastination had that and it presented the same way - a cold that got better then worsened.
posted by procrastination at 2:13 PM on December 26, 2012

practically everyone i know has the same symptoms right now. a cold that won't go away, and just when it seems to be on its way out it morphs into an unproductive, nagging cough. i've had it two weeks going into my third while those who've had it before me say they've had it at least three weeks. it's not whooping cough or bronchitis.

buy a humidifier!!!!!!!! seriously, humidifiers work wonders. i'm a fan of the cheap Vick's brand humidifier, around $30.00 at most drugstores. you don't need to sit over it either. just place it in whatever room you're in and turn it on. you'll feel the difference right away. the Vick's brand has a receptacle for adding Vapor Rub but i wouldn't bother. just fill it to the waterline, add a pinch of salt to help it work (as per the instructions) and let it run. i usually fill mine right before bed and let it run all night then use it during the day as needed. an alternative is to put a large pot of water on the stove and let it steam up the house. you'll be surprised at the relief you get within minutes. a totally dumb, simple, miraculous method that makes sense considering the fact that our breathing passages are naturally moist yet the air in our houses is often bone dry thanks to central heating.

i use a humidifier every winter except this one and now i'm sick. if i didn't feel so crappy i'd buy one to replace the one that's locked up in my storage space.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 3:06 PM on December 26, 2012

When I've had this, it has been something the doctor needed to give me treatment and prescriptions to combat. For me, it's generally pneumonia or bronchitis on the way to pneumonia. I also have more than one friend who discovered they'd had pertussis for weeks after presenting with very similar symptoms.

So, if nothing you'd normally use is helping, I'd say see the doc. If the doc rules out all of the worst case scenarios, then rabbitrabbit's suggestions + guaifenesin are good next steps.
posted by batmonkey at 3:06 PM on December 26, 2012

What's humidity like in your house? If your cough is eased in a steamy shower, you should get a humidifier.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:59 PM on December 26, 2012

Are you taking any other prescription medications? A year or so ago I developed a severe cough that sounds like yours...I'd cough to the point of gagging and the only thing that stopped it sporadically was actively drinking something. I went to an ENT who did many tests and sent me to an allergist. She determined that I was allergic to my cat and grass and I don't know what all and gave me a nasal spray, a breathing treatment, and some other pills. None of the above helped a bit. Then one day my rheumatologist phoned me to let me know that he'd gotten a report stating that a lot of patients taking Diltiazem (a calcium channel blocker I'd been taking for a couple of months) were suffering from a cough similar to mine. I stopped taking the Diltiazem and about five days later the cough was all but gone.
posted by Oriole Adams at 8:32 PM on December 26, 2012

I'd just like to point out that almost every poster has advised you to use medications that you have already tried. And the way you yourself phrased it, it's unclear if you realize that the medications you've tried have pretty much the same ingredients in them.

* Tylenol Cough = acetaminophen (pain relief/fever reducer) plus dextromethorphan (cough suppressant)
* Tylenol Cold Plus Mucous Relief = acetaminophen plus dextromethorphan plus guaifenesin (an 'expectorant' - it breaks up the mucous) and pseudoephedrine (a decongestant)
* Tylenol Cold and Flu Night = acetaminophen plus pseudoephedrine plus diphenhydramine (otherwise known as Benadryl, an antihistamine that causes drowsiness)
* Benylin DM syrup = dextromethorphan syrup

So you've tried a number of medications, but they all have the same cough suppressant in them, DXM or dextromethorphan. It looks like you can get products with codeine available OTC in Canada, so I would recommend trying that, or trying home remedies for cough, until you can get to your doctor. Because as many have pointed out, any upper respiratory tract infection can lead to an asthma exacerbation and you can't treat that with OTC meds. You haven't mentioned if/how frequently you are using an inhaler. I'm not your doctor and this is not medical advice, of course.

p.s. I also would like to second the poster who mentioned whooping cough/pertussis: all adults are now recommended to get re-vaccinated against this once-relatively rare disease which has made a big comeback (both in Canada and the USA) because of a decrease in vaccine coverage, sadly. If you haven't yet, ask your doctor about getting your flu vaccine as well while you still can - it's very important for people who also have asthma.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:45 PM on December 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Cough medicines don't work.
posted by gramcracker at 10:15 PM on December 26, 2012

You should go to the doctor so you can see if you have something serious and horrible that needs treatment and also so that you can ask for Hycodan, which is the only cough syrup worth a damn. You will not cough after taking it, I can almost guarantee.

In the mean time, honey has been shown to be as effective as all the over-the-counter dextomethorphan crap.
posted by looli at 10:31 PM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

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